Sydney Jewish Museum

History

The Sydney Jewish Museum was established in 1992 by the generation of Holocaust survivors who came to Australia. They envisioned the Museum as a place which could hold their stories and personal objects, memorialise those who were murdered during the Holocaust, and within which the lessons from the past would be taught.

26 years since its inception, the Museum continues to give a voice to the victims of the Holocaust so their stories can start conversations and inspire change.

Geographical and Cultural Context

The Sydney Jewish Museum is dedicated to documenting and teaching the history of the Holocaust. The world-class museum challenges visitors’ perceptions of democracy, morality, social justice and human rights and places the Holocaust in its historical and contemporary context.

Building(s)

The Sydney Jewish Museum is housed within the historic New South Wales Jewish Memorial Hall – commonly known as the Maccabean Hall, or ‘the Macc’. The Inter-War Classical style building was designed in the 1920s by Sydney architect Gordon Keesing. The Maccabean Hall was established with two main functions: to operate as a communal centre for the social and educational activities of Sydney’s Jewish community, and to stand as a memorial to Jewish soldiers from New South Wales who served in World War I.

By the early 1940s, the Maccabean Hall held more than 90 percent of the Sydney Jewish community’s activities and functions. The community centre became crucial in rehabilitating and integrating Jewish refugees from Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s, after World War II. Its spaces were used for English lessons for migrants, weddings, weekly Sunday dances, meetings, rallies and commemorative events for Anzac soldiers and Holocaust victims.

The building was expanded along Darlinghurst Road in 1965 by architect Henry Epstein in a Brutalist architectural style. Epstein’s modernist façade features a large concrete sculpture of an abstracted seven-branch Menorah by 20th century Australian sculptor Lyndon Dadswell.

Since 1992, the Maccabean Hall building has been home to the Sydney Jewish Museum. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was increasing awareness of the importance of speaking about the Holocaust, particularly amongst Holocaust survivors in the community. The survivors, who made up a large proportion of the Jewish community after WWII, were instrumental in taking the steps to designate the Maccabean Hall as a space within which stories from the Holocaust could be preserved and taught. This space was a natural choice for the community as it represented continuity due to the building’s longstanding communal function for Jewish people.

In the designing of the Sydney Jewish Museum in the 1980s, the original Art Deco barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Maccabean Hall was maintained. Architect Michael Bures designed a sculptural staircase that takes the shape of the Star of David, the universal Jewish symbol. This construction created a central void that connects the exhibition platforms with the building’s historical features.

The Sydney Jewish Museum is located on the traditional lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nations. We recognise the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional owners and ongoing custodians of the land upon which the Museum is situated.

Archival and Other Holdings

The Sydney Jewish Museum collects and conserves original memorabilia related to the Holocaust, Judaica and Australian Jewish history to make these available for display and research for generations to come.

The Holocaust collection covers broad aspects ranging from pre-war life to survivors’ migration to Australia and the later War Crime Trials.

Objects in the Australian Jewish History collection trace life in Australia from the arrival of the first convicts and free settlers to the present; there is a strong focus on servicemen and women.

The Sydney Jewish Museum’s Resource Centre has more than 6,000 volumes, audio and videotapes, journals and personal testimonies, including the Shoah Testimonies.

The Centre holds over 2,500 testimonies from Holocaust survivors interviewed in Australia. These testimonies are part of a collection of more than 53,000 testimonies gathered by the Shoah Foundation, spearheaded by Steven Spielberg. The individual testimonies have been digitised and are housed at the USC Shoah Foundation (University of Southern California).

Finding Aids, Guides, and Publication

The catalogue of the Sydney Jewish Museum’s Library can be found here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1reodRylCzeqk_zFcl2ZBOCpW5CFRxYA6/view

Opening Times

Museum opening hours

Monday to Thursday: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Saturday: Closed
Sunday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Sydney Jewish Museum’s Resource Centre is staffed by a qualified librarian and is open to the public during Museum hours. Please note that on Sunday the library is staffed between 11am – 3pm only

Research Services

The Sydney Jewish Museum Resource Centre houses the Survivors Registry and contains resources which members of the public may use to determine the fate of Holocaust victims or survivors. The Librarian can provide general guidelines for using these sources and conducting further research.

Sources